Hoarding is a serious mental disorder, and when your resident starts showing signs, it can be equally as hard to be understanding while keeping your resident and the rest of your community safe. When we initially think of the mental condition, the first thing that pops into mind is the binge-worthy TV show, Hoarding: Buried Alive, where the homes of severe hoarders are sensationalized. However, not all hoarding situations are that extreme. While having a hoarder as a resident is difficult no matter how severe the case, it’s not impossible to come to somewhat equal terms.
Mike and Gera T. had a mild hoarding situation which was resolved through patience but persistence. They had been renting their duplex out to an elderly couple for 7-8 years, but Mike had noticed that as the husband had gotten into his 90’s, he had started picking up bulky items off the street and at yard sales and had shoved them into his side yard. As time went by, his collection had started overflowing into the front yard.
From what Mike and Gera assume, a city inspector was called to the duplex because of a complaint. The inspector wrote up a 30-day notice with strict fines of over $100, if the front yard was not cleared. When Mike brought the notice to the resident’s attention he initially recommended that they rent out a storage place as the husband was reluctant to let go of his bargain finds, but after reviewing local services, the couple stated that it was simply too expensive.
Within the 30-day period, Mike went almost every day to remind the husband that his items needed to be removed. Slowly but surely, things were moved around. Among many items, the lazy chairs in the front lawn were shifted around, a cooling fan appeared and then disappeared within the period, and an old water heater was carried away by Mike and the husband. As the 30-days were nearing close, Mike talked to the inspector and got an extension for his residents. Once a little over a month had passed, the bulk of the issue had been cleared and the job was approved by the inspector.
The wife was so grateful to Mike and Gera’s patience, that she gave them a bottle of wine. To date, the elderly husband sits outside on one of his new wooden benches, made by Mike to replace the lazy chairs, with a few of his neighbors.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hoarding ranges from mild to severe and in some cases, hoarding might not have much of an impact on a person’s life. The Director of the Bio-Behavioral Institute, Fugen Neziroglus, argues that “people hoard because they believe that an item will be useful or valuable in the future. Or they feel it has sentimental value, is unique and irreplaceable, or too big a bargain to throw away.” While the memorable images of trash piling to the walls from Hoarding: Buried Alive aren’t necessarily fictional, the severe cases of hoarding have become the stereotype for the disorder. The idea that by simply throwing away the resident’s “trash”, you can resolve the issue doesn’t help the resident and typically costs thousands of dollars.
So the big question is what can you do?
- Try to Accommodate
As a recognized mental disorder in 2013, hoarding is protected under the Fair Housing Act as a disability. If you know of the resident’s disorder, then to protect yourself legally, you should try to accommodate to the renter’s needs.
If your resident’s items become a safety hazard or a problem for the rest of your community, then first and foremost talk to your resident. If the problem continues, consider seeking legal advice and make sure to document the entire process.
- Reasonable Accommodation
As a person with disability, your hoarding resident has the right to request a reasonable accommodation. While most hoarders don’t exercise this right, a reasonable accommodation request can help you and your resident get on the same page and work out a cleaning timeline. It also furthers your legal standpoint.
This process will take a lot of time and it can be stressful at points, but try to be as sensitive as possible to your resident. While you might see their items as trash, hoarders don’t have that distinction. So avoid using words like “junk”, “trash” or “mess” to describe their belongings. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt to provide your resident a list of clean-up services or extra trash bins. Use services like Angieslist.com to find clean-up services that can help your resident remove items when they’re ready.
- Final Options
If the space is cleaned at the end of the process, that doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. Make sure to schedule check-ins with your resident to reinforce your previous cleanliness standards and maintain a good relationship with them.
If the space is not cleaned within the time frame, consider other options. Possibly create a more realistic time frame with your resident. Due to the cost, try to pull through and find other options than an eviction. Only evict in the case where the resident is hoarding animals, blocking emergency exits, causing major damages to their home, or putting themselves in danger.
It’s completely understandable if you’re warry of accepting hoarders into your property. According to the Pacific Standard, in San Francisco alone, “nearly $6.5 million is spent by landlords and service agencies each year on hoarding-related issues, which include eviction and the removal of children or the elderly due to health and safety concerns.” The fear of property damages or safety issues is a real fear amongst property managers; especially when hoarding has been identified as the direct contributor of up to 6% of all deaths by house fire.
If you’re fearful of housing intense hoarders, choose a tenant screening service that performs verbal verifications in conjunction with eviction reporting. This way if a previous landlord details the eviction process of the tenant due to hoarding, their eviction record might be able to prove that the tenant’s disability became a legal issue. While the word “hoarding” won’t be on the eviction record when you review it, it might be listed as a Performance of Covenant (or PC), indicating that there was a lease violation strong enough to remove them from the property. PC is typically used for tenants who are evicted for leaving rubbish or inappropriate objects on the exterior of the property.
That being said, having a hoarder as your resident isn’t impossible. You just have to approach your resident differently and think in terms of what will work for you and your resident. Just like Gera and Mike T.’s residents, you can form a long-lasting residency and a good relationship with your tenant as well. And who knows? Maybe you’ll house the next Andy Warhol, one of the most famous hoarders of all.
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